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Last week, I was minutes away from starting an important work call. As I checked the clock, I realized I had to change a diaper, grab my Airpods, put on my shoes and jacket and dial into the call. All of this was supposed to happen in about two minutes.
Sound familiar? Juggling responsibilities, finding space to work, rushing to get things done … this is the reality many families are facing. For entrepreneurs or business owners with kids, the challenge is greater. All of a sudden, you’re a teacher, too.
Despite these challenges, eventually we will have to find a new normal. Fortunately, there are brave people who willingly embrace the challenge of homeschooling that we can learn from. Many have done it for years while also juggling work or running a business.
I’ve spoken to many of these parents and gathered their advice. The context in which they started homeschooling might be different than today, but their suggestions are still powerful. Even more enlightening in some ways is their advice for the pitfalls and common mistakes to avoid along the way. Here are the top don’ts for first-time homeschooling, working-from-home entrepreneurs.
Don’t spin your wheels without a plan
As you watch the news headlines roll in, you may have realized that things are not going back to normal any time soon. Taking a moment to find a sense of direction about your family’s homeschooling experience can make later decisions a lot easier. It’s actually kind of like running a business: You can easily get caught up in the day-to-day, but you’ll be able to make faster and more effective decisions if you know your high-level goals.
Consider this uplifting take from homeschooling mom Erin Aldrich Miller: “One of the things that has helped me the most in homeschooling is keeping the end in mind. My husband and I want to raise curious, compassionate kids. Having those principles in mind helps us make value judgments about educating our children.”
You don’t have to map out a full education plan for your kids, but if you can jot down a few key words you want to focus on throughout this process, you’ll find a much-needed sense of direction.
Avoid throwing healthy habits out the window
If you spent the first week of social distancing bingeing on Hot Pockets and chocolate milk, no judgment here. However, it’s important to keep up healthy habits you may have had before all of this began. And it’s just as important to help your kids get the sleep and nutrition they need, too.
One way to promote healthy eating for your kids is to get them involved in the process. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There are plenty of cooking with kids videos on YouTube and courses online, along with healthy family cooking kits like Raddish Kids that serve the dual purposes of activity, education and nutrition.
Ditch your army-style daily schedule
If you approach your business with a type-A level of detail, then jumping into home schooling might have been a shock. You’re new to homeschooling. You may be new to working from home. Trying to keep things on a minute-by-minute plan can be a recipe for disaster. A little flexibility goes a long way.
“For older kids, I found letting them create their own schedule was key to empowering them to feel they had control of their education,” says homeschooling mom Victoria Lazar-Breault. “When my child failed to meet his own goal, I just kept asking ‘what do you think needs to happen to make it work?’ After weeks of dialing in on what works and what doesn’t work, he created his own schedule, and it made him feel in control and confident.”
Beware of trying to “set it and forget it”
On the other hand, many new homeschooling parents have unrealistic thoughts about their children’s independence. If you can help your kids stay on task, that can mean the difference between having to sit with them all day versus getting a few minutes to take care of some small items on your to-do list while they are busy learning on their own.
Michelle Seagren shares this idea for making transitions go smoothly for homeschooling families: “As soon as I finish a lesson or they finish watching a video, and they start working, I turn on classical music from YouTube. If I don’t, they start chatting up a storm and don’t focus. It’s magic!”
Don’t think you have to do it by yourself
Many entrepreneurs and business owners already approach challenges with the mindset that they can handle things on their own. Throw in social distancing, and it’s understandable why you may feel like you’re alone in this homeschooling thing.
However, modern technology can help you connect with loved ones while also improving your children’s homeschooling experience. Take this idea, which is perfect for younger kids: Plan a mystery reader event with friends or family on Zoom. Simply reach out to a few of your closest friends and family and ask them about a time and day that they might be free to read a short book to your kids. If loved ones live close by, you can even drop off a book that you know your kids will enjoy (without going inside of course). Then, your reader calls in over your favorite videoconferencing tool and reads the story to your kids.
Beyond this idea, the internet is full of resources that can help get you through the day. You can find online classes for kids ranging from ages three to 18, which help them connect with their peers and educators that teach them about a new subject or simply give them a more fun way to learn algebra.
Regardless of how much advice you get, jumping into homeschooling while working isn’t easy. But by following advice from folks who’ve been there, you can boost your chances of success and stay sane.